Recently in Reviews
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
01 Dec 2009
No need to rise for this Hallelujah Chorus
ENO did not exactly ‘import a choir of Heathens’ to encourage the Shaws of this world to ‘hasten’ to its version of ‘Messiah’ ‘if only to witness the delight of the public and the discomfiture of the critics,’ the contribution of ‘Heathens’ in musical terms being limited to representing the populace of an initially grey Britain (or so I assume) but for every critic who was discomfited — most of us — there were hundreds of audience members who loved it, so it’s fairly safe to predict a considerable hit.
It was famously said of Mrs Cibber that for her singing of ‘He was despised,’ all her sins should be forgiven, and I can forgive a lot of directorial sins for Catherine Wyn-Rogers’ deeply moving, absolutely committed performance, and for John Mark Ainsley’s characteristic skill in making fluent musical sounds whilst having to perform undignified acts. Sophie Bevan also had a lot to contend with in that ‘Rejoice Greatly’ was taken a little too fast for her, and she had to perform ‘I know that my Redeemer Liveth’ lying flat on a bed, something which no singer ought to be asked to do — those of us familiar with the Glyndebourne ‘Theodora’ will recall how Dawn Upshaw and David Daniels were similarly encumbered at the moment of their deaths, but there it was deeply moving as opposed to annoying, and at least they didn’t have to rise again and don an M&S cardigan. I found it less easy to forgive Brindley Sherratt’s blustery singing — ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’ was off key and lacking in grandeur.
And did those trumpets sound for us? Did we, despite being committed Atheists, find ourselves saying ‘Wow, maybe there is something to all this religion stuff after all?’ Well, no — but we sometimes do just that after hearing ‘Messiah’ in the concert hall. Handel himself said that whilst composing the Hallelujah chorus, he felt ‘as if I saw God on his throne, and all his angels about him.’ All I felt here was the same sense of embarrassment I experience at the end of one of those services where everyone has to shake hands. The ENO chorus seemed somewhat subdued overall, and needless to say I Ioathed the drippy dancing.
Does it work? Musically, yes, and you would expect no less from Laurence Cummings’ ever-dynamic command of the orchestra, but the staging seemed too calculated to appeal to the ‘Christmas-addict.’ Of course, it’s a Christmas show, and if it brings in people who don’t know ‘Messiah’ then it will have achieved much, but somehow I had expected more from Deborah Warner: her concept of the kind of grey workaday world of which the poet wrote ‘So many, I had not thought death had undone so many’ being transformed by the suffering and death of Christ was a bit too ‘happy-clappy’ for me, and the Christmas-card images seemed trivialized. As for the child who kept running about to no discernible effect, I could have cheerfully shot the little tyke, adorable though he was. Jean Kalman’s lighting, as so often in this house and up the road, illuminated the stage with the most poetic sensibility.
Catherine Wyn-Rogers [Photo by Robert Workman courtesy of English National Opera]
Should you go? Well of course you should — you’ll hear some genuine Handelian singing and playing, and you’ll experience one of the great masterpieces in a new and occasionally refreshing light — just don’t expect to be as moved as you were by the same director’s ‘St John Passion,’ and be prepared to put up with a few squirm-inducing moments.